A book for foreign-policy wonks to debate and cherish.



Which presidents of recent times have been most successful in international affairs?

Chollet, executive vice president of the German Marshall Fund, suggests that three recent presidents exhibited a sensible approach to foreign policy: Dwight Eisenhower, George H.W. Bush, and Barack Obama (the author served in multiple senior positions with the Obama administration). “These three leaders,” writes the author, “demonstrated how the United States can exercise prudent and powerful leadership in the world and stand as pillars of de­cency, humility, and strength.” Each of them represented a fundamentally conservative approach. None was quick to reach for military solutions, but none shied from them, either, and all three focused on keeping a balance between foreign and domestic commitments. Chollet’s book, while not belaboring the point, stands as a rebuke to Trump’s handling of allies and enemies alike. In the place of his wild inconsistencies and angry bluster, Eisenhower, Bush, and Obama exhibited a keen awareness that what Eisenhower called “the Middle Way” was the place where progress might be slow but the real battles were to be fought, and all three sought to rein in the “arrogance of power” that so characterizes the current president. Chollet notes that although Obama has been scourged as a radical leftist, his policies, particularly foreign policy, were framed in terms that Eisenhower and Bush would have endorsed. The author tests his thesis on six crises, two apiece, that the three presidents faced and met with that middle-way policy, including Obama’s dealings with the Assad regime in Syria: “While Obama wanted to get rid of Assad, he did not want the United States to be on the hook to do it.” Obama further opposed the war in Iraq but wanted to focus closely on fighting terrorists in Afghanistan. Bush denounced “America First”–ism. Chollet’s thesis is too often stated and restated, but his conclusions are worth holding in mind as one evaluates presidential performance.

A book for foreign-policy wonks to debate and cherish.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-19-009288-7

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Oxford Univ.

Review Posted Online: Sept. 29, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2020

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If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.


The authors have created a sort of anti-Book of Virtues in this encyclopedic compendium of the ways and means of power.

Everyone wants power and everyone is in a constant duplicitous game to gain more power at the expense of others, according to Greene, a screenwriter and former editor at Esquire (Elffers, a book packager, designed the volume, with its attractive marginalia). We live today as courtiers once did in royal courts: we must appear civil while attempting to crush all those around us. This power game can be played well or poorly, and in these 48 laws culled from the history and wisdom of the world’s greatest power players are the rules that must be followed to win. These laws boil down to being as ruthless, selfish, manipulative, and deceitful as possible. Each law, however, gets its own chapter: “Conceal Your Intentions,” “Always Say Less Than Necessary,” “Pose as a Friend, Work as a Spy,” and so on. Each chapter is conveniently broken down into sections on what happened to those who transgressed or observed the particular law, the key elements in this law, and ways to defensively reverse this law when it’s used against you. Quotations in the margins amplify the lesson being taught. While compelling in the way an auto accident might be, the book is simply nonsense. Rules often contradict each other. We are told, for instance, to “be conspicuous at all cost,” then told to “behave like others.” More seriously, Greene never really defines “power,” and he merely asserts, rather than offers evidence for, the Hobbesian world of all against all in which he insists we live. The world may be like this at times, but often it isn’t. To ask why this is so would be a far more useful project.

If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-670-88146-5

Page Count: 430

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1998

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A conversational, pleasurable look into McConaughey’s life and thought.

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All right, all right, all right: The affable, laconic actor delivers a combination of memoir and self-help book.

“This is an approach book,” writes McConaughey, adding that it contains “philosophies that can be objectively understood, and if you choose, subjectively adopted, by either changing your reality, or changing how you see it. This is a playbook, based on adventures in my life.” Some of those philosophies come in the form of apothegms: “When you can design your own weather, blow in the breeze”; “Simplify, focus, conserve to liberate.” Others come in the form of sometimes rambling stories that never take the shortest route from point A to point B, as when he recounts a dream-spurred, challenging visit to the Malian musician Ali Farka Touré, who offered a significant lesson in how disagreement can be expressed politely and without rancor. Fans of McConaughey will enjoy his memories—which line up squarely with other accounts in Melissa Maerz’s recent oral history, Alright, Alright, Alright—of his debut in Richard Linklater’s Dazed and Confused, to which he contributed not just that signature phrase, but also a kind of too-cool-for-school hipness that dissolves a bit upon realizing that he’s an older guy on the prowl for teenage girls. McConaughey’s prep to settle into the role of Wooderson involved inhabiting the mind of a dude who digs cars, rock ’n’ roll, and “chicks,” and he ran with it, reminding readers that the film originally had only three scripted scenes for his character. The lesson: “Do one thing well, then another. Once, then once more.” It’s clear that the author is a thoughtful man, even an intellectual of sorts, though without the earnestness of Ethan Hawke or James Franco. Though some of the sentiments are greeting card–ish, this book is entertaining and full of good lessons.

A conversational, pleasurable look into McConaughey’s life and thought.

Pub Date: Oct. 20, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-593-13913-4

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: Oct. 27, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2020

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